Untangling the Chinese Knot

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images.)

The House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party held its first hearing this week. In interviews and joint statements Chair Mike Gallagher, a Republican and ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, have made it clear they are determined to make this committee a bipartisan project. Going forward, they will have their work cut out for them.  

While it’s true there is a remarkable spirit of bipartisanship among politicians and policy experts that we are—and should be—entering a new era of confrontation with China, that consensus is actually more superficial once you look below the headlines of the press releases. While nearly all the players say we need to take the China threat seriously, what they mean by “the China threat” varies wildly. 

That’s because the “China threat” serves as a kind of all-purpose justification for various preexisting agendas and ideological commitments. On both the left and right, the economic “threat” from China provides an excuse to peddle decades-old ideas. For Democrats who champion green technology, “independence” from China is an excuse for massive domestic subsidies. For Republicans eager to make the GOP a “workers party,” Chinese competition is a great talking point for “onshoring,” “buy American” protectionism, and industrial policy. 

Defense hawks see the rise of China—coupled with its view of Taiwan—as a justification for increased defense spending most would favor anyway. In other corners of the right, now that Islamism is no longer seen as the “civilizational” foe it once was, some nationalists are eager to cast China as our defining enemy. 

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